First whale shark satellite-tagged in India

March 16th, 2011 - 10:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Sutrapada (Gujarat), March 16 (IANS) A whale shark has been satellite-tagged for the first time in India as part of research to understand its behaviour, ecological preferences and migration, an official said.

The first set of data received Wednesday indicated that the 6.5 metre long male, rescued off the Gujarat coast, had reached the coast of Maharashtra.

The satellite tag was installed by a team of researchers under the Whale Shark Conservation Project, a joint venture of the Gujarat forest department and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), supported by Tata Chemicals Limited (TCL).

“This individual was caught offshore Sutrapada. As with other such individuals in the past, the local fishermen along with the project team, freed the whale shark. There were several rescues last week, but this case was favourable for tagging as the tail was suitably exposed and the tag could be deployed efficiently and swiftly,” said Anita Karn, Junagadh deputy conservator of forests.

Satellite tagging is the latest development in the Whale Shark Conservation Project that had earlier initiated photo-identification, genetic analysis and visual tagging of whale sharks in India.

“A few years ago, while discussing with WTI and other partners on how the scientific study on whale sharks should go forward, satellite tagging was identified as an important tool,” said Alka Talwar, head of communities development at TCL.

“To now see the first tag in place and receive data is to know that all that we had planned and dreamt is now being realised. For us, this is an achievement of another milestone. We hope that the data from this tag will help us ensure the long term survival of this species.”

Manoj Matwal, assistant field officer at WTI, said: “The satellite tag was attached to the caudal fin of the fish. It is the marine equivalent of a satellite collar with the data collected being transmitted to the satellite every time the individual surfaces.”

“This tag is expected to last for about six months and give us data related to movement of the fish, its preference in water temperature, diurnal and nocturnal activities as well as swimming patterns between different layers of water.”

Indicating success of satellite tagging, the first signal from the animal was received early Wednesday, 68 hours after the tag was fixed on the animal. The signal was received 250 km off the coast of Mumbai, revealing that the fish has travelled southwards along the western coast.

Over the coming months, researchers will be closely following the movement patterns of this whale shark, giving unprecedented insight into the lives of this elusive species along the Indian coast.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and was once brutally killed across the shores of Gujarat for its liver oil used to water-proof boats. Made aware of the plight of the fish through the Whale Shark Campaign, the local fishermen began voluntary release of whale sharks accidentally caught in their nets.

The fish was listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in 2001.

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